Sunday, January 26, 2020. Rev. Jen Dunfee, preaching.
Scripture Readings: I Kings 8:1, 4-13, 22-30; Psalm 27:1, 4-8
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Today is the second in our sermon series on the Intersection of Heaven and Earth, where we join the people of scripture in asking questions like: What is the relationship between heaven and earth? How is the life of heaven related to the life of earth? Pastor Scott began last week with a consideration of the Tabernacle – the carefully designed mobile tent the Israelites set up to worship God during their wilderness wanderings, and then in the years of establishing their own land. The Tabernacle tells us that God’s presence is deeply with us in any wilderness we encounter and also out in front of us, to guide our way forward and through.
Perhaps a repeat of the assurance of the Tabernacle, of God’s presence with and before us, is what we need to hear this morning after news of Pastor Annamarie’s new call. When we find ourselves unsure of the path ahead, we rely on the promise that God is with us, and is with her. That we do not walk this path alone, and God goes before us to guide our way. I will miss Pastor Annamarie as a pastoral colleague, as a parent with children in youth group, and as a friend. We will all have time together in the next months to share how she has grown our faith and to celebrate her ministry here.
Pastor Annamarie loves Psalm 27, so it is fitting that this is the scripture for today, as it speaks of what we seek when we come to a place of worship. Maybe today that is simply the assurance and security of being in the presence of God together, of knowing God will be found by us in the house of the Lord. The writer of this Psalm uses verbs of action to describe the search for God’s presence: I asked, I seek after, I behold, I inquire. In the midst of all that swirls around this writer, fear, conflict, anxiety, uncertainty, there is belief and hope, that the actions used to find God will bear fruit. The writer is accessing a variety of parts of the self in this pursuit: I ask with my words, I seek with my body, I behold with my eyes, and I inquire with all that is on my mind. I bring my whole self to the worship of God in the Temple.
The divide between heaven and earth gets closer as God comes closer to us, like the presence of the glory of the Lord that filled the tabernacle in last week’s scripture reading, and filled the inner sanctuary during the dedication of the Temple described in 1 Kings. That is the heaven-down-to-earth manifestation of God’s power and glory. The Psalm and the passage in 1 Kings describe that it also happens when earth reaches for heaven when we go seeking, inquiring, asking to behold God’s presence.
The building of the Temple of the Lord was just such a reach, a desire on the part of King David, then his son Solomon, to create so magnificent a structure that surely God would want to dwell there. And also (a phrase from L’Arche) they were also wise enough to know that even the most magnificent of structures would be no match for God’s majesty. To get a sense of the majesty in how it is described earlier in 1 Kings 7:48-50: “the golden altar, the golden table for the bread of the Presence, the lampstands of pure gold, the cups, snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and firepans, of pure gold; the sockets for the doors of the innermost part of the house, and for the doors of the nave of the temple, of gold.” Even with all of that golden detail, if the heavens cannot contain God’s glory, the grandest Temple won’t either.
But the point of the earthly Temple was that it would “overlap with the heavenly home” as the Bible Project puts it. So at the very least, as we heard today from 1st Kings, here was the hope: God’s eyes would be on the Temple day and night, God’s holy name would be found there, and God would listen to the prayers of the people in that place. (From the scripture reading: Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.)
In other words, when the people would seek after God in that Temple, God would be found. And they would be seen, and they would be heard, and they would be held, at least for a while, in the presence of the Holy One. The people coming close to God, and God coming close to the people, an intersection of heaven and earth. David’s building of the Temple in Jerusalem comes at a point of greater stability and prosperity for the Israelites – the bible records that he gets the idea when he looks at where he lives and says, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” (2 Samuel 7:2)
When his son Solomon gets to building the tent, the Israelites have resources to spare, labor to give other than for defending their borders, and people with whom to trade and get materials. The building of the Temple as a place to seek God’s presence comes after this season when the threat level is lower and basic survival is more assured. When survival was on the line, every day the Israelites wandered they needed God’s fire to guide them and God’s manna to feed them. Now they are (at least for a while) on the other side of relating to God as their rescuer in physical desperation, yet want to hold onto their identity, faith and practice as God’s people. It is often true in our live also that we are more likely to sense or seek God’s presence in the wilderness or struggle than we are when things are going better.
The Temple then becomes a place to hold God close, to go for a set-apart time at a set-apart place, to go with intention and by pilgrimage, and once there, to use all that we are, our whole selves: eyes, ears, feet, body mind and spirit, to seek after and inquire of God: by sacrifice and service, by prayer and praise, by listening to God’s word, and encountering God’s glory. To be seen, to be heard, to be claimed and named, to be drawn close, and lifted up. And to find, again to quote the Bible Project, “the hotspot of God’s presence.” Going to the place where we can most reliably expect to find God is a witness, that we know the location of our source, and we know that it is through regular participation in the practices of the Temple that our earthly lives are most connected to the ways of Heaven, that we are formed by God’s words, forgiven by God’s mercy, renewed by God’s grace, and transformed by God’s glory.
We come to the house of the Lord, returning to the words of Psalm 27, because it is where our hearts are at home. Notice the beauty of verses 8 and 9, where the writer is in conversation with his own heart. Come, my heart says, and seek the Lord’s face. Then the response, Your Face Lord, do I seek. This is what we seek after together, being seen by the God of universe, and having all the prayers and concerns of our hearts heard, and knowing that the stronghold of our lives never, ever stops turning an eye our way. Our hearts know this is true, and they call to us even now: Come, seek the Lord’s face.
To continue in the theme of our education class on how music connects with faith and life, Peter Gabriel visited the Gaudi Cathedral in Spain, created to “given the earthbound a glimpse of heaven.” (Peter Gabriel Wikipedia) A creation with a biblical level attention to detail, to beauty and to the overlap of earth and heaven, and he wrote a song from that visit that in a later version became him hit, “In Your Eyes.” To the God whose face is ours to find, and who never turns an eye away from us,
“In your eyes The light the
In your eyes I am complete
In your eyes I see the doorway to a thousand churches
In your eyes
The resolution of all my fruitless searches”
(We all know what a fruitless search feels like), God’s face in the house of the Lord: This is the beginning of the answer to all the questions we are asking, and it is the foundational object of all the things we seek.